Sisterhood Blog

How to Give When You Have No Money To Give

By Johnna Kaplan

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The other day I got a postcard. It was from a chapter of a Jewish women’s organization I fleetingly belonged to, located in another time zone. The postcard was unusual in that it was requesting donations of clothes, rather than the usual appeal for cash. But the fact that it showed up in my mailbox was not.

This organization, whose philosophy and goals I entirely agree with, has been regularly asking me for money for about six years. The fact that I have never made a donation, except for when I initially joined, does not deter them. Nor does the fact that I have moved about five times since then. More consistently than reminder cards from the dentist or perky updates from my Alma Mater, these donation-seeking letters have followed me everywhere.

And every time I get one of them, or one of the letters or emails from all the other Jewish organizations whose missions I also thoroughly want to succeed but cannot afford to subsidize, I remember that as long as I have no money to give, most Jewish non-profits will find me perfectly useless.

Perhaps it serves me right for signing up for all of those email lists, or for buying a few trees, or for joining that organization years ago. I don’t usually join things. But at the time I’d just moved to a new city where I didn’t know a soul, so I decided I’d do it the acceptable way for once. I’d volunteer my time for a cause I believed in, and I’d try to make friends.

So I sent the organization $50, I think — more than I could spare, but I figured it was a worthwhile investment. The organization turned out to offer neither volunteering nor friend-making opportunities. All the members clearly knew each other already, and the events, many held in private homes, were organized in groups. You didn’t go stuff envelopes and get to know strangers; you reserved a table (with all your friends) at a benefit dinner. I never went to any of them.

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